Zero-prop Fiction

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December 19, 2012 by bradcharlesbeals

One of the first things I do with clients who provide existing content is to look for the zero-prop filler–language that is neither a proposition of value nor of identity but is on the page solely for its own sake.

Invariably, it’s there. And when I find it, I cut it.

I try to be as ruthless with my own writing, but it’s a hard discipline. What is it about story-telling that tempts us so powerfully to over-writing?

Some possibilities…

1. …because I’m too dependent on the first person. It’s our nature to explain and justify ourselves. Maybe I would be more concise in 3rd limited.

2. …because I want to be conversational. Conversational people are nice, and I want to be nice.

3. …because I underestimate my reader. “You’re not as bright as I am,” I think. Here are more words to help you along. You’re welcome.

4. …because I don’t really know what I want to say, so I flit around the thought like a circling moth until I find a point where I can perch.

5. …because most of my internal dialogue is zero-prop filler. I write what I am. (That one scares me.)

6. …because I’ve accepted a kind of non-sequitur: that words are good; therefore, more words must be better, a preponderance of words the very best!

7. …because it’s hard work, and writing is hard enough.

But really, the why of it doesn’t matter. I must be ruthless with my own words, but always with the hope that I’ll be shaped by the discipline.

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